Insider tip: Drive via Ollantaytambo
However, if you have made your trip to Machu Picchu more spontaneously and now have no place left, there is another loophole – where you can even save money and time! From Cusco, you can take a taxi or minibus to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, about 60 km northwest, which takes between one and a half and two hours. The taxi will cost you about $20, the bus about $5. The latter, the so-called Colectivo, is also used by locals and is an adventure in its own right.
From Ollantaytambo there are regular trains to Aguas Calientes from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., which then need only an hour and a half for the journey. Here you can choose between two railway companies: Peru Rail or Inka Rail. The latter is a bit cheaper. By the way: Ollantaytambo is also worth a visit as a stopover on your journey to Machu Picchu. It is a picturesque little village in the middle of a beautiful landscape, which also houses Inca ruins and is almost never overcrowded.
When the weather in Machu Picchu goes crazy: Landslides and floods
After really heavy and continuous rainfalls in December and January there can be landslides around Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley. These often block the train routes from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu. This can lead to delays and interruptions of several hours – in the worst case the tracks are blocked for days. If your journey to Machu Picchu is to take place in a tight time window, ask a few days in advance what the conditions are like.
Another reason to continue by train directly to Machu Picchu Pueblo after arriving in Cusco is the altitude at which the city is located – namely 3,416 m. Aguas Calientes, on the other hand, is “only” 2,090 metres above sea level in the Urubamba Valley. Thus, the place is a much cheaper place to get used to the altitude difference and to avoid the altitude sickness that visitors in Cusco often quickly attack.
For this reason too, an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes can work wonders for your well-being. Don’t take acclimatisation lightly – nausea and exhaustion can affect your whole trip to Machu Picchu! Even the inhabitants respect the effects of altitude on the human organism. Take it easy and listen to your body.
Stay in Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes offers a wide range of hotels and hostels in different price categories; also here, a booking in advance is recommendable. Especially the Inkaterra Pueblo is popular within the upper middle price category. It maintains its own small tea plantation that can be visited, offers a beautiful orchid garden and has its own animal rescue station. Also recommendable: bird watching guided from there.
If you want to spend less than 20 dollars a night on your trip to Machu Picchu, you should take a look around. Ignore the hotel signs and nice invitations at the station, walk up the hill and across the bridge. On the other hand, you’ll find pretty, small guesthouses, many of them even with internet access, for about $15.
Those who want to stay right outside the gates of Machu Picchu can do so – but only in one hotel, the small Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, which also belongs to the Orient-Express group. The accommodation price is correspondingly expensive; children over six and up to twelve years pay over 200 dollars in their parents’ room.
Especially along the Av. Pachacutec in Aguas Calientes there are a number of friendly, typical Peruvian restaurants. Peruvians recommend the cuisine of the Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel, which also welcomes non-guests.
Insider tips in and around Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes was named after its thermal springs, which are said to have a healing effect. Especially after a long day in Machu Picchu, a spa bath in the publicly accessible waters refreshes you – for a visitor-friendly fee of about ten dollars and with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountain slopes.
About an hour’s walk from the village, a picturesque walk along the tracks, lie the Mandor Gardens with beautiful orchids and waterfalls.
There you will also find a real secret tip for backpackers and anyone who wants to be closer to nature than in a hotel room: protected on the grounds of the gardens is a small campsite where you can pitch your tent for five dollars a night.
Those who prefer to return to Aguas Calientes can enjoy a traditional Inca massage before dinner, which is offered in the city for about 25 dollars per hour.
The day in Machu Picchu
Egal wie sonnig und wolkenlos der Himmel aussehen mag: Packen Sie morgens auf jeden Fall eine gute Regenjacke ein – das Wetter kann schnell umschlagen. Nachts und am frühen Morgen kann es in Machu Picchu empfindlich kalt werden, am Tag dann aber feucht-schwül bis heiß. Am günstigsten fahren Sie mit dem Zwiebellook, der Ihnen erlaubt, sich mit der Erwärmung lagenweise luftiger zu machen. Bitte nicht vergessen: Mückenschutz, Sonnencreme, ein leichter Sonnenhut und wirklich bequeme Schuhe für den unebenen Boden. Im Durchschnitt werden Sie bis zu 3.000 Steinstufen auf- und abgehen!
Also very important, especially for your own ascent: Sufficient water, preferably in unbreakable bottles. On foot it is about an hour and a half’s walk from Aguas Calientes to the ruins. However, the path is steep, so you should be fit and allow enough time for a short break. If you want to climb one of the two peaks afterwards, you might want to use your energy and take the bus.
Directions to Machu Picchu
From around half past five in the morning the bus departs every few minutes as soon as it is full; there is no fixed timetable. It takes about forty minutes and costs about 18 dollars. The later you leave in the morning, the longer the queue will be at the bus stop. It swells up again after the first trains from Cusco have arrived. Here you have to bring patience and make nice travel acquaintances! Alternatively, you can buy your bus ticket the day before, then you won’t have to wait any longer.
When exactly you should leave depends on the day. Of course, very early in the morning is the least busy time. On cloudy days, however, it can be so foggy in the morning hours that you can hardly see your hand in front of your eyes. Don’t panic if it gets late and the bus already looks very full – the groups get lost in the ruins and it never feels crowded. Of course, the sunrises are spectacular – when they can be seen. But so are the sunsets. It is much more important to stay as long as possible in the evening!
Put coins and cash in your pocket!
Don’t forget to pocket a few coins in the morning, because the clogs cost a brine – and no exceptions are made, no matter how desperate you look!
Coins aren’t the only cash you’ll need. Both train tickets and admission must be paid for in cash (if not already purchased online), either in US dollars or in Peruvian soles. In total, you will quickly earn $150. Remember to draw money in Cusco, if necessary; on the mountain you can’t get anywhere with your credit card.
Machu Picchu Tickets
It is best to purchase your Machu Picchu tickets online in advance. You can only pay with your VISA credit card. Print out the online receipt and exchange it in Cusco or Aguas Calientes for the actual ticket. The printed receipt will not be accepted as an admission ticket! Reduced Machu Picchu tickets for students or children cannot be purchased online.
Otherwise, buy your Machu Picchu tickets in town – in Machu Picchu itself there’s no way you can! You will find the appropriate issuing offices of the Ministry of Culture in Cusco and in Aguas Calientes. You will need a valid passport for the purchase. It is best to pay in cash, but credit cards are also accepted. The queues at the ticket counters can often be long! If you have already paid and just want to exchange your receipt for the actual Machu Picchu ticket, it’s much faster.
Machu Picchu Tickets in Cusco:
DRC Cusco Office
Address: Av. La Cultura N°238 Condominio Huáscar. Monday – Saturday, 8.00 a.m. – 18.00 p.m.
Machu Picchu tickets in Agua Calientes:
DRC Aguas Calientes Office
Address: Av. Pachacutec. Monday – Sunday, 5.00 am – 10.00 amSecret tip: If you want to save a lot of time, buy your Machu Picchu tickets from an authorized dealer. The relevant authorization numbers can be found on the Ministry’s website (see link). You pay a small surcharge for your Machu Picchu tickets, but it’s worth the time you save.
There are four different types of Machu Picchu tickets: for the ruin itself (Ciudad Inka MAPI), in addition for the museum (Machupicchu y Museo), including an ascent of Huayna Picchu, one of the two peaks between which the Inca ruins lie or Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña).
Machu Picchu Tickets
This gives you access to the ruins; you can leave and re-enter them as often as you like during the day. The entrance times are from 6 o’clock in the morning to 6 o’clock in the evening. The ticket costs around 125 soles.
Machu Picchu Tickets + Huayna Picchu
Here is the ticket for the ascent to Huayna Picchu (details see below). The ticket costs about 150 Soles.
Machu Picchu Tickets + Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña)
Here is the ticket for the ascent to Machu Picchu Mountain/ Machu Picchu Montaña. Only 400 tickets are issued per day; the access times to Machu Picchu Mountain are between 7 and 11 am. This combined ticket costs about 140 soles.
Machu Picchu Tickets + Museum
This combi-ticket also includes a visit to the museum. The museum is not located near the ruins, but on the shuttle bus route between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, just before the bridge, before the ascent begins. The museum, reopened in 1992, contains artefacts from Machu Picchu since its rediscovery in 1911, some from the last ten years. The opening hours are between 10 am and 5 pm. This combined ticket costs about 140 soles.
Ganz wichtig: Heben Sie die Tickets gut auf – wenn Sie die Toilette benutzen oder etwas essen gehen möchten, verlassen Sie das Gelände. Um es wieder betreten zu dürfen, brauchen Sie Ihr Ticket und Ihren Pass! Diesen müssen Sie also auch auf jeden Fall mitnehmen.
Ascent to the peaks
As I said, the Machu Picchu tickets including the ascent to Huayna Picchu are limited, so you should book one in advance. Ascent times are at seven and ten in the morning. The later ascent is recommended, as the view becomes clearer then.
The ascent is strenuous; you should definitely have the right climbing shoes. Once you have reached the top, however, you will forget all the exertions: the view over Machu Picchu is spectacular and offers especially amateur photographers fascinating motifs – a real highlight of your trip to Machu Picchu!
Insider tip Wayna Picchu
The higher of the two peaks, Wayna Picchu, can also be climbed. But this one is almost something for professionals. Only 400 ascents per day are allowed; you should book this tour in advance to avoid disappointment. Here the early ascent at 7 am is recommended, especially on hot days. Experienced climbers will need about 45 minutes for the ascent. On the way back there are two routes to choose from, one of which leads to an impressive cave at the back of the mountain.
The Machu Picchu Tour
Those who prefer to concentrate on the inspection of the ruins should think about investing in a professionally guided Machu Picchu tour – even the best books or apps don’t know all the historical and architectural details and above all don’t reveal any local anecdotes.
You can book a guide for your Machu Picchu tour in the city; most hotels will help you make your choice. But even at the gates of the ruins, guides offer their services – and they are all good. You will be recognised by the official identity cards of the Ministry of Culture, which you must wear visibly. Talk to the guide for a moment to test their language skills and see if they get along – that’s normal.
For a two and a half hour Machu Picchu tour you can expect a cost of 140 soles for one or two participants; don’t try to push this price down, you won’t get it cheaper elsewhere. If you are going to several, you can start trading if the price suddenly rises dramatically. You pay the guide in advance; if you are really satisfied, you can tip 15 soles or more after the Machu Picchu tour – but it’s not a must.
If you prefer to explore the area on your own, bring a travel guide with you, as there are no explanatory signs inside the ruins.
Food & Drink
After the Machu Picchu tour you should reward yourself with lunch. Between 10.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. it will be the busiest time, because there are the day visitors from Cusco – just the right moment to escape from the hustle and bustle.
There are plenty of possibilities for picnics. Bringing food and drink is allowed, but should not be unpacked at the excavation sites. Large backpacks are not allowed in the complex, so the food must fit in a smaller bag with your other items. Alternatively, there is a snack bar right at the entrance, which, however, can be adequately remunerated for its monopoly position. Those who want to pamper themselves and sit while eating will stop by at the Sanctuary Lodge and help themselves to the lunch buffet there – which, however, costs almost 50 dollars.
In the afternoon and early evening, take the time to simply sit quietly in various places and take in the scenery, visit the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate. You will often find the most beautiful motifs for your Machu Picchu pictures.
The rest of the day should also be spent in a relaxed manner – this and frequent drinking are the best precautions against nausea caused by altitude. Take headache tablets with you if you tend to have migraines and sit down if you get dizzy. Coca-leaf tea is the Peruvians’ secret recipe and miracle cure for altitude sickness and its symptoms – you should try it.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
A word of warning first: Plan this type of approach to Machu Picchu only if you are really physically fit. Depending on the route, you will be on the Inca Trail Machu Picchu for between two and four days. Also called Camino del Inka by Peruvians, the Inca Trail Machu Picchu also leads you through some of Peru’s most beautiful landscapes. Along the route there are Inca ruins to be seen again and again, often mysteriously half hidden, which increase the anticipation of Machu Picchu even more.
Organization and equipment for the Inca Trail Machu Picchu
Think absolutely of really good footwear! You will walk along the Inca Trail Machu Picchu on many different challenging surfaces, from dense rainforest soil to steep rocks. Professional, waterproof hiking boots are a must.
In any case, you should book your trip in advance (see links) and preferably four to six months before the start of the trip – otherwise it is very likely that you will not get a place on one of the doors. The daily number of permitted hikers is limited and the Peruvian government requires travellers to obtain a permit. Four days Inca Trail Machu Picchu cost around $550. You can rent a backpack on the spot or even pay for your luggage to be transported so you can walk more easily.
Insider tip: The Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek was voted one of the 25 most beautiful treks in the world by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine. It starts in Mollepata near Cusco and leads to Machu Picchu in five days. On the way you will also cross fertile rainforest and snow-capped mountains. The only advantage is that the Salkantay trek does not require a permit and is not subject to any restrictions. So you will almost always get a place on one of the tours, even at short notice.